This year is one of the hottest summers on record in the U.S., Europe, and parts of Asia. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and Copernicus Climate Change Service reported record temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere. The continued effects of global warming led to millions dealing with sweltering temperatures and looking for ways to beat the heat.
Since experts believe climate change is resulting in more frequent heatwaves and other extreme weather events, it is worth exploring the impact climate has on personal health to help employees stay safe and mentally sound.
Physical And Psychological Effects Of Hot Days
The physical tolls of high temperatures on employee health are well documented. Extreme heat can reduce a person's capacity to work, particularly in outdoor jobs such as construction and agriculture. Employers are becoming more aware of the need for proper prevention and treatment strategies for dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and other heat-related illnesses. Water stations, branded water bottles, and hydration challenges are a few common strategies to keep employees hydrated.
The impact of high temperatures on mental health is less recognized. Studies have found links between high temperatures and mental health issues ranging from fatigue to aggression and higher rates of suicide. Hot days are associated with a higher number of emergency room visits for drug abuse, mood disorders, schizophrenia, and dementia. People with pre-existing mental health conditions are particularly susceptible to heat stress, which can aggravate their symptoms. Although scientists have yet to uncover why and how heat impacts mental health, it is clear that oppressive heat is linked with worse mental health. In some ways, this should not be too surprising—individuals, when uncomfortable, are not at their best.
"Temperature extremes can influence everything from your day-to-day mood all the way up to your probability of experiencing an acute mental health crisis." – Dr. Nick Obradovich
Other survey data from nearly two million Americans found that on days when temperatures exceeded 70 degrees, respondents were more likely to feel unhappy and increased stress, anger, and fatigue than on days when temperatures were between 50 and 60 degrees. Employees may be sleep deprived during heat waves, with higher temperatures often associated with sleep disruption. Access to air conditioning and proper ventilation at home and in the workplace can also directly influence personal and professional life quality.
The stress of climate change goes beyond its direct impact on the body. Many individuals experience climate anxiety, especially if they live in areas prone to more frequent flooding, wildfires, and drought. These employees have the recurring stress of thinking they may lose their homes or have to incur unexpected expenses, which impact their financial well-being.
Although the science behind temperature and mental health is still developing, employers should not wait to take action by providing additional support to employees impacted by these circumstances.
Employers can organize targeted wellness initiatives to educate employees on the physical and mental impacts of extreme heat. A summer-themed wellness challenge is an effective way to promote awareness and provide valuable resources through a gamified experience.
Another approach is to highlight opportunities for employees to live more sustainably and demonstrate how their individual choices can have a significant impact on the world around them.